Nuclear Safety Reform: The National Assembly Votes for the Bill

The National Assembly narrowly voted in favor of the bill aimed at reforming the governance of nuclear safety through a closer integration of the ASN (Nuclear Safety Authority) and the IRSN (Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety). The substantial differences between the Senate and the National Assembly will now have to be resolved in a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

On March 19, 2024, the bill to merge the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) with the Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) was approved by the slimmest of margins in the National Assembly, with a vote of 260 in favor and 259 against. The debates took place in a charged atmosphere. The vote was marked by opposition from the Communists, Socialists, Ecologists, the Liot group (Liberties, Independents, Overseas and Territories), and unexpectedly, the National Rally (RN) – despite the latter having supported Article 1, which ratified the merger of the two entities. Ultimately, approval was secured with the support of the presidential majority, including Renaissance, Horizon, and the Democratic Movement (MoDem), as well as contributions from Republican deputies.

The project is structured in two parts: the first focuses on the creation of the new entity, while the second addresses the adaptation of public procurement rules.

A Debate on Expertise and Decision Duality

The first part details the essence of the reform, namely the merger of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) with the Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) (Article 1). It also specifies the organization of this new entity, a subject that sparked extensive debates. While the Senate wanted a strict distinction between expertise on one hand and instructional/decision-making activities on the other, the Assembly opted for a more flexible approach, allowing this new independent authority to organize itself according to its internal regulations (Article 2, paragraphs 8 and 9).

The same article emphasizes transparency, ensuring the publication of expert findings and opinions from permanent expert groups. The text stipulates that these opinions will be published concurrently with decisions, unless decided otherwise (Article 2, paragraph 12).

A Reaffirmed Research Organization

The bill reaffirms the new authority’s missions of radioprotection, evaluation, accreditation, expertise, and research (Article 3), as well as its freedom to define its research programs. The Assembly decided to equip this entity with a scientific council, whose unpaid members are selected for their scientific and technical skills. The text also consolidates existing relationships between the safety authority and the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices (Opecst) (Article 4).

Among the more consensual provisions, the text includes temporary rules regarding personnel, their representation, and the organization of committees (articles 6 to 11). Like the Senate, the National Assembly wants the role of the High Commissioner to be defined by law, but for his precise missions to be set later by decree (Article 12). To closely follow the merger process, a measure was added to verify the progress of the new structure’s preparation (Article 15 bis). Finally, the text establishes exceptions in the public procurement rules for certain nuclear projects (Articles 16 to 18).

A Joint Parliamentary Committee to Watch Closely

The version of the text shows divergences between the Senate and the National Assembly. Legislators will have to find a consensus on a common text during a Joint Parliamentary Committee (CMP), scheduled for early April. If the CMP reaches an agreement, the agreed text will be submitted to a final vote by each chamber in the following days. Given the fundamental differences between the two chambers, this stage will be closely monitored. ■

By Thomas Jaquemet (French Nuclear Society, SFEN)

Image: Roland Lescure, Minister in charge of Energy, during the presentation of the nuclear safety reform bill at the National Assembly – ©Amaury Cornu / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP